Modern lawyers will not only grasp the impact of current regulations on disruptive technology, they will also customise those innovations to the legal industry.

An artificial intelligence judge, legal robots, big data for law – the legal profession is not immune to the wave of tech buzz words. From doomsday scenarios to comforting articles insisting that robots will not replace lawyers anytime soon, legal tech is most certainly trending. So much so that entire legal tech guides are drafted to assist legal departments in choosing the right product. Of course, the transformation of legal services is not a brand new phenomenon. The Stanford Law Review had already published an article on ‘Some Speculation about Artificial Intelligence and Legal Reasoning’ in 1970 and Professor Richard Susskind who became well-known in 2008 thanks to his book ‘The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services’ had been exploring the future of the legal industry for over 30 years.

Today introducing more advanced technological tools in legal practice is no longer a suggestion, but the reality. In times of economic hardship, clients expect quality and efficiency from a sector where they are billed by the hour and the highest level of expertise no longer seems sufficient to distinguish a law firm from its competitors. Even in more conservative jurisdictions which have not explicitly liberalised legal services, successful lawyers need to understand what technology has to offer and how to integrate it to serve their clients. Fortunately, legal practice consists to a certain extent of repetitive tasks which can be automated or at least streamlined. For example, e-discovery software supports practitioners in common law jurisdictions by identifying and reviewing the vast amount of documents to be produced in discovery proceedings. Nonetheless, so-called legal tech goes beyond facilitating tiresome tasks previously delegated to junior lawyers.

Indeed, legal practice management software helps your firm to track the time spent on each file, relevant documents, clients’ bills, etc. Contract management software has become another popular tool. Integrating existing drafts, it allows users to create contracts and review them without having to copy paste from templates. Often built around a decision tree, the relevant pieces of texts are inserted following a series of questions. It is also possible to track the life cycle of the contract and set alerts for key dates. This document automation tool has been adapted to other fields where standardised forms and documents are regularly used, including intellectual property, family law and company law. To be sure, those services are not limited to law firms and SMEs now also turn to legal tech start-ups offering a cheap and simple way to incorporate their business, file patents, obtain personalised contracts and more.

Legal data analytics remains perhaps the most promising innovation in the long term. It refers to the process of analysing legal data to extract meaningful information using the methodology data scientists already apply in other fields: How are those cases related? How does this judge tend to rule? What are the chances of success of this case in several jurisdictions? Previously the realm of legal publishers, this technique involves processing a very large amount of legal data, sometimes called ‘big law’, revealing patterns which would otherwise go unnoticed. Natural language processing and visualisation tools complement this new approach allowing both practicing lawyers and academics to conduct better quality research in a shorter amount of time (see e.g. ROSS).

Beyond more competitive prices, clients are intrigued by new services such as chat bots or messaging applications always available to address their legal needs and matchmaking tools connecting lawyers to potential clients. Companies are also looking for software implementing complex legal advice, as shown by the variety of privacy technology products available on the market since the adoption of the GDPR. While the technology is generally developed externally by software companies, start-ups or legal publishers, some law firms have decided to build their legal tech infrastructure in-house. Naturally, these advances can also improve access to justice for individuals who could not afford legal services or chose not to consult a lawyer, as demonstrated by Crowd Justice, ClaimIT or Do Not Pay.

Curious? On 27 April, Legal Hackers organised the first of a series of demo nights in Brussels for developers and start-ups such as Lawbox to showcase their tools. Here are some of the other ways to learn more about those intriguing developments: Legal Geek’s Startup map, Brussels School of Competition course on Law, Cognitive Technologies & Artificial Intelligence, Daniel Martin Katz and Michael J. Bommarito’s new online Legal Analytics course,

Caroline Calomme is the founder of Brussels Legal Hackers, the local chapter of an international community of professionals who explore and develop creative solutions to pressing issues at intersection of law and technology through monthly meetups.

She obtained her bachelor degree at the European Law School in Maastricht and the degree of Magister Juris with distinction from the University of Oxford. Previously, she worked as a Blue Book trainee for the European Data Protection Supervisor and as a private law lecturer at Maastricht University. In the Netherlands, she also co-founded the Technolawgeek community.